The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) ultimately wants to close its doors. When Type 1 diabetes is cured and prevented, JDRF will have achieved its goal. Until then, the organization will continue to do its part to fund research, while also providing support and education to those affected by the disease.
“The faster we raise money, the more we can fund research and therapies, and the more likely it is that we’re going to find the little guy out there in the corner who has the answer,” says Marie Davis, executive director of JDRF’s St. Louis chapter.
Type 1 diabetes affects 3 million Americans, with approximately 80 people diagnosed every day. JDRF has worked since 1970 to help find a cure for the autoimmune disease, relying on events to raise most of its funds. The St. Louis chapter raises almost $3 million a year through programs like a diabetes walk in the fall and a gala in the spring. Still, it is a continuous challenge to meet those monetary goals. “When you lose a corporate sponsor because of the economy, you suddenly have a hole to fill,” Davis says. “We must fill that hole because we can’t go backward. Research has to continue moving forward.”
That research has made significant strides forward, with a continuous glucose monitor that was recently approved by the FDA, and an artificial pancreas that is currently in the final trial stage. However, JDRF recognizes that these innovations are a long time coming and “we need to also help people with Type 1 live better lives with the disease,” Davis explains.
The local chapter is aware of more than 2,700 area families who have a family member with Type 1 diabetes, but “that number is just the tip of the iceberg,” Davis notes. JDRF provides those families with mentoring, education and support to help adjust and cope. Events like a family retreat allow people to connect with other Type 1 sufferers.
JDRF’s efforts also take the form of advocacy, constantly stressing the importance of finding better therapy or a cure. “About 8 percent of all employees in Missouri will have diabetes, so think about how much money it will save businesses and insurance companies if we can find a cure,” Davis says.
In her 14 years as executive director, Davis has seen some dramatic achievements come from Type 1 research. “Years ago, many people with diabetes went blind as a complication, and today, less than 1 percent do because of the steps that have been made,” she says.
If JDRF is to close its doors one day, those achievements need to continue. The tiny staff depends on its 800-plus volunteers to help with events and a large board provides networking contacts to build relationships for fundraising. But there still needs to be more public awareness about the significance and prevalence of Type 1 diabetes, Davis says. “The community needs to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. If we don’t reach those who need to know about us, we’re not going to get there.” LN